As a (self proclaimed) competitive 40k player one skill that I always need to keep fresh is the ability to open a codex and find the data sheets inside that provide instant value when added to an army list. This can be in the form of an aggressively pointed unit, a unit in the codex that may allow a certain playstyle the army otherwise lacks, or a unit that is extremely efficient at it’s role on the tabletop. The ability to pull competitive units from a codex and create a cohesive army list is the first step into success as a competitive 40k player. This process has become more difficult for the Genestealer Cults with the arrival of 9th Edition and 9th Edition Codices. Many of our units lost some of their value with the exclusion of the Vigilus Detachments, while other units had their battlefield utility stripped away through points changes (my poor Abberents). One unit I am having a hard time re-evaluating for the new meta is the Atalan Jackals on their sweet dirt bike rides.
During the good ole’ days of cheap 5 man bike units getting +2 to hit, +1 to wound, and throwing 5 Demolition Charges these bikers made it into almost all of my competitive army lists for GSC. Unfortunately, like many things in the GSC codex, the release of 9th Edition was not kind to the Jackal. Bonuses to hit and wound have been capped at a cumulative + or – 1, so we can no longer have 5d6 demolition charges hitting on 2s. Both the Jackals and their Demolition Charges have received points increases making a unit of 5 come in at 120 points, and the Command Points cost of the Jackal demolition charge bomb has increased with the massive cut to the CP available to a GSC army.
All is not lost for the Cult biker however. The Jackals still provide some excellent utility for a GSC army with their speed and resiliency (for GSC). One thing a competitive player looks for when evaluating a unit’s usefulness is the overall availability of the benefit that unit brings to the table within the Codex. The Jackals are the only unit in the GSC codex who are both cheap and fast on the tabletop. These bikers move 14 inches which is enough to make them an excellent tool for blocking your opponent’s movement onto mid-table objectives. A unit of 5 bikers with no weapon upgrades comes in at a reasonable 70 points, and with some decent advance rolls, a unit of Jackals can park themselves in front of enemy units so they will be required to deal with this annoying unit before being able to hold an objective of their own.
Rusted Claw bikers have even more mobility with their Drive By Demolition stratagem. While many GSC players are aware this 1CP strat allows a unit of bikers to get +1 to hit and wound with their grenade weapons the other half of this stratagem will sometimes be ignored. After playing this stratagem (as long as the Jackal unit did not just arrive from ambush) the unit may also make a normal move after shooting, but cannot charge after making this bonus move. For 1 CP this unit can get 28 inches of movement! Have you ever played an Aeldari player who uses Fire and Fade to shoot at your units and then move back to safety like a coward? Well Drive By Demolitions is a 14 inch move Fire and Fade! Use that extra move to get out of danger, grab a lightly held objective, or score some unexpected Behind Enemy Line points.
So far we have just covered the usefulness of the mobility of this unit, but, even without Demolition Charges, the Jackals can put out a respectful amount of damage on certain enemy units. A shotgun toting Jackal unit has the ability to use Close Range Shoot-Out for 1CP that allows the unit to re-roll would rolls for Assault or Pistol weapons. With the increased popularity of units like Poxwalkers or Drukari Wytches the Shotgun’s high volume of shots re-rolling wounds can allow a Jackal unit to punch way above their weight in the shooting phase.
Atalan Jackals are also a resilient (for the GSC Codex) unit that your opponent may have to dedicate more firepower then they want to in order to get rid of a small 70 point unit. Always being -1 to hit in the shooting phase, with Toughness 4 and 2 wounds each can really mess up an opponents plans if their dice go a little cold. Make no mistake though, the Jackals are not going to hold up to any real amount of firepower or close combat and should be hidden behind terrain when possible. That way when they are sacrificed for the good of the Cult they will be denying your opponent points or grabbing some points of their own before they go.
While the good ole’ days of the Jackal biker bomb may be over this fast moving unit still has enough utility to make it into many GSC army lists. The way forward for these awesome looking models is compact, cheap, squads that have the ability to move block your opponent off of objectives by utilizing their excellent mobility.